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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

What was couples' therapy like and did it help your relationship?

Asked by Simone_De_Beauvoir (38863 points ) October 13th, 2009

Oftentimes, on fluther, people advise others to go to couple’s therapy and I often wonder if they, themselves, have gone and whether or not it was as useful as they thought it would be…I’ve heard some of your stories with couples’ therapy but was hoping to get more feedback…to me, it doesn’t seem like anything I’d try…my relationship is for me to solve and (I’m sure this is a very limited outlook) if I can’t with civility solve it with my partner, it is a failure, to me…and so generally, I say ‘sure try couple’s therapy, maybe’ but I don’t put too much emphasis on it as I don’t really think all that highly of it…but since I haven’t tried it, I shouldn’t talk and so I want someone who has tried it to tell me how it really is…

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7 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

In theory, therapists can help you bring up topics that you either are afraid to discuss or don’t know how to discuss with your partner. Often times, couples don’t have the communications skills necessary to discuss difficult things. They get hurt, which causes them to get angry and then they blame each other, and can never proceed to problem solving.

Being hurt is natural, as is anger. But if they get in the way of fixing things, then you get into a cycle of blame and anger that leads to the end of the relationship. Couples counselors can establish rules of discussion, and help partners actually listen to each other, and focus on solving problems instead of getting stuck in the blame cycle.

Even in relationships where both parties have excellent communications skills, there can be difficulties in raising topics. There is so much at stake, and both sides can be afraid that if they try to address a concern, it will lead to divorce. They feel it is better to tough it out, or stay somewhat miserable than to face the misery of loss.

Many times, there are social pressures to maintain a relationship. Many couples stay together for the kids. Sometimes it is appropriate to end a relationship, and a couples counselor can help the couple realize they really can’t be happy with each other. Then they can plan a way to separate that causes the least upheaval for the kids or themselves. Again, the trick is to stay out of the cycle of shame and blame.

It’s all about communication. Good couples therapists can help couples improve their communications skills so they can effectively work to resolve their problems. You may think you are good at it, and you may be good at it, but a third party can also create a safer place to work on things.

Your relationship is for you to solve, but that doesn’t mean you have to remain without help. People don’t know how to do things. Why else would so many people appear on fluther or other question sites to ask about relationships? It is not a sign of failure to ask for help. In fact, it may be a sign of commitment to ask for help. It can be a good symbol that the parties really are interested in staying with each other; that they both still value the relationship.

So that’s theory. There’s more, but I’m moving on now to practice.

I’ve been with three couples therapists—for different issues: coping with infertility, coping with infidelity, and learning how to reestablish a connection. Two of those three experiences were helpful. The key is that the therapist has to be seen as neutral, not as representing one or the other person. They have to avoid taking sides.

The therapist must also be good—at helping couples learn communication skills, and at creating a safe space for them to deal with issues that are really hurtful. Like I said, I’ve found good ones two out of three times. Both those times we interviewed the therapist together. One time, I brought her in later, and that didn’t work.

I always felt that I had good communications skills and good therapy skills, so I shouldn’t need a therapist. Maybe I do, but I still was helped by therapists. It’s not enough to be very perspicacious and analytical about yourself. It’s not enough to be able to see through the lies you tell yourself. I found I needed more. I needed courage—a way to get past the fear.

My other skills helped me make therapy successful, but without the therapy, I’d probably be single—maybe even dead by now (20% of people with bipolar disorder end up successfully committing suicide). We are still in therapy (and are looking forward to mental health parity), and I don’t think we should ever believe we are safe. I still have problems. At least I can recognize when I am “acting out.” I can know what I should do. I don’t always seem to be able to make myself do what I should. Therapy helps with that.

You have already established good communications skills and know how to deal with difficult problems. You can’t be in an open relationship without that. Still, there may come a day when things change. The longer you are in a relationship, the more you have riding on it, and the harder it can get to be willing to upset the apple cart. You may lose your nerve, even though you are skilled. Don’t make yourself do it all by yourself. Be willing to ask for help. It makes your job easier, and makes you more likely to succeed if you have help. Don’t let pride get in your way of getting what you want out of life.

I admire you greatly. I think I would be better off in an open relationship, but I don’t have the courage to do that. My wife would leave me if I insisted on that. I love her and I love our kids, and I choose them over having an open marriage. I want her to feel secure in my love. It is worth a bit of unhappiness to give her that. I work hard to keep her feeling as safe as I can. Even with my awareness, though, I still get into trouble sometimes. I’m glad I was willing to go to a therapist with her.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Me and my husband have been in therapy for the loss of our son. Part of the focus is to make sure our relationship survives the loss (from what we are told only a small percentage of relationships survive this type of trauma). It has helped us tremendously. To be fair we didn’t have many relationship issues but that may be because we had the therapy to address the additional stress of the situation so we didn’t take it out on each other. I highly recommend therapy but I also recommend making sure one finds the right therapist so it can be a positive experience.

I also have a personal leaning towards therapy as I have been trained and worked in the field. My college degree was in psychology and since I’ve graduated I’ve pursued trainings and jobs in the field. Right now I’m doing social work which really uses a lot of the skills I’ve learned.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@daloon it certainly does sound like now is not the time, necessarily, to pursue an open relationship…especially if you guys are working out some of your own issues…my partner and I have an understanding that at the time when our relationship is declared as vulnerable by either of us (I’ve certainly called it that in the past) or if either of us is in a particularly vulnerable time in our life (for me it was pregnancy, for example), then the relationship gets closed until we both feel well enough mentally and as a couple to get into all of that again…

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

It did absolutely nothing to shed light on why my ex husband and I returned to our platonic state as before marriage, we were really disappointed, really grasping and open to find a ‘mechanism’ that would save what otherwise was a marriage of huge positive potential.

Blondesjon's avatar

Shouldn’t the phrase be ”Our relationship is ours to solve?”

hmmm. . .

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Blondesjon oh absolutely
it’s mine and his to solve
but since I was just speaking on my behalf I said ‘mine’
but in general, what do you think of couple’s therapy??
hmmm? spending more of your precious time away from your family and trying to figure me out? surely you jest

Jack79's avatar

I am not against couple therapy. In fact, I’m pretty sure it can be very good and help solve problems, if the mediator is good and both people want to sort things out. In my case, the mediator was completely useless and my wife was doing everything in her power to get a divorce, so “therapy” only made things worse. At times when we missed sessions, things actually improved between us, but when we followed them, what would typically happen would be that she’d go and lie to the therapist, then I’d go and face all those preposterous accusations, and then we’d both go and have a fight in front of her.
Typical questions towards me would be “why do you beat up your wife?” or “when will you stop cheating on her?”. The so-called “therapist” could took all the claims at face-value and could not imagine that my ex was simply lying, which is what everyone else who knew her could figure out in a jiffy. It takes a hairdresser half a session to figure out what’s really going on, and a doctor with 4 PhD’s spent 6 months and still couldn’t see what was happening (or maybe she was just recycling the problem in order to make money).

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